Thursday, February 23, 2006

A life in color..

“Egyptian Landscapes”

Celebrating 50 years of Tapestry Weaving at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre, Cairo

'Human freedom never has as much meaning and value as when it allows the creative power of the child to come into action’ Ramsis Wissa. Founder of the Ramsis Wissa Wassef Art Centre.

As I pushed the heavy glass door that led into the gallery, I contemplated the blurry array of colors that shone through it, and held my breath in anticipation of what lay beyond it.
Inside, I was greeted with a strong gust of color, tanned faces, noisy markets, the ebbing Nile, breath taking nature, and the faint scent of heavy wool; all laced with the with the delicate melody of Oud chords and the jingle of tambourines. With this, I was home.

The Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center’s tapestry exhibition “Egyptian Landscapes” celebrated 50 years of beautiful tapestry and enjoyed a vibrant success at the Brunei gallery in the School of Oriental and African Studies. The exhibition was inaugurated on the 19th of January and is expected to continue until the 18th of March.
On Display was 50 years of work from the Art centre as well as two representative weavers to tell their stories. For at the heart of the Gallery were Sabah and Reda, who sat in a glow of pride, boasting their talents, as their fingers danced across the threads of their looms.

Ramses Wissa, once a Cariene architect, worked with the philosophy that “every human being is born an artist”, that every human being was talented, given the opportunity to express it. The Wassef’s (Ramses and his wife, Sophie) ‘experiment in creativity’ lead to their starting a workshop in Haraneyya village in Cairo, where children with no particular artistic talents, and without much experiences in the field of tapestry, were given the opportunity to create tapestry in an uninhibited environment that ‘encouraged’ rather than instructed, and inspired to produce freely without the adult criticism that limited creativity. Ramses Wissa also taught the weavers to choose, as well as create their own colors. Thus, with the use of plant and insect extracts for colors, the craft was their own from it’s start to its finish.
Their Legacy is now continued through their daughters Suzanne and Yoanna Wassef.

One of the Centre’s prominent artists; Aly Selim joined the Wissa Wassef Centre at age 13 in 1961. Initially, Aly was turned away due to lack of space for a new student, however having returned to the centre with a tiny tapestry piece produced using left-over wool from his sister’s loom; there was no turning him away.

Aly’s engaging piece “The Hymn of Akhenaton”, reads as softly and as beautifully as the poem that is its namesake. Aly struggled with the challenge of portraying the different times of day in one picture as they were eloquently described in the poem. However, with Suzanne’s help, Aly was able to use the rising of the birds and departure from their trees at day break, returning at sunset, and disappearing in them at night along with the colors associated with each period to portray the almost musical transitions.

Karmia Aly, another talent, started with the Centre at the young age of 11 in 1955, and her work mainly portrayed her love for folklore. Karima’s impressive works include “Battle on Horseback” which reflected Karima’s inner struggle through the array of colors and motion reflected by an epic of battle fought by Bedouins and Fellaheen on horseback. Karima had used her craft to express her troubles allowing the clamour of swords and angry hooves to speak her inner feelings.

Karima’s other work, portrays the peace and tranquility that are her character in her tranquil blues and soft yellows.

The Egyptian Landscape exhibition presented us with true Egyptian talent using true Egyptian heritage. The materials used, the choice of colors, and the craft itself is true to Ancient Egyptian, Christian and Muslim tradition, and portrayed through folklore, humor, tragedy and magnificent beauty the stories and day to day lives of the every-day Egyptian.

This was not merely the story of the success of the socially conscious artistic endeavor. This was the story of a country, a culture, a heritage, and a celebration of natural inborn talent. A celebration by all those who’s lives , dreams, emotions were expressed through the tapestries, and a celebration by all those who were able to experience, and live them through.

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